In the heat of the night

Motorcycles

I wonder if anyone else shares my fascination with this night racing thing? Or perhaps you consider it be an irrelevance, an artifice created merely to increase the television ratings in Europe?

It is an artifice, of course, but a gripping idea as well. Not a new idea, I appreciate, having watched NASCAR night races in the days when you didn’t have to pay a monthly fee for your favourite motor racing channel. Anyway, I lost patience with Eurosport, despite having been their Indycar commentator for a season. It seemed that every time I tuned in for NASCAR or Champ Car all I got was African league football, though that too became quite interesting and made a change from the Premiership. Eventually, however, the shambles of the scheduling, or at least the form in which it reached the TV listings, became too much for me. But I digress.

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Night racing, as we know, is coming to Moto GP this weekend and to Grand Prix racing at Singapore in September. And I am fascinated by the challenge, both for competitors and promoters alike. And there are different problems, different challenges, for bike racers and car racers. Let’s take a look at what’s in store at Qatar this coming weekend. Moto GP is exciting enough in daylight, never mind in the middle of a floodlit night in a Middle Eastern desert. And this season looks like being a cracker, with the gifted Valentino Rossi determined to get back on terms with the precocious young Casey Stoner, with Ducati using every last nut and bolt to get back at Yamaha. The fact that the battle is to commence beneath thousands of floodlights can only add to the excitement.

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Motorcycle racing at night has its own special demands on the lighting crew. Bikes move around a lot more than racing cars and they change direction in the blink of an eye, so the corners have to be particularly carefully lit. According to a report by Moto GP correspondent Rick Broadbent in The Times, and he should know, each of the top riders has had his own set of problems in dealing with night racing. Honda rider Dani Pedrosa told Broadbent that there were a lot of shadows and it was very tiring on the eyes while Casey Stoner spoke about the importance of confidence in his instinct in the reduced visibility. James Toseland, who impressed in testing last week, said he felt like he’d worked a night shift and the humidity of the hot nights was causing moisture on his visor. Rossi simply observed that it would be better to hold a night race when the temperatures are a little higher, when the night air is not so cold.

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This is intriguing stuff. I wonder if some of the Grand Prix drivers will be watching on Sunday when the bikers venture out into the night on the Losail circuit in Doha. They will be facing similar, but not the same, challenges when they get to Singapore in the autumn. The floodlights will not, contrary to popular opinion, re-create daylight. There will be plenty of light, yes, equivalent to lighting up seventy football pitches. But it’s new territory; the first few laps will be into the unknown, the uncharted. It will be interesting to see who performs at their best under the glare of the bright lights of show business. And who is most daring in the shadows.

The whole idea, of course, is to encourage us to sit back on the sofa, at a respectable hour, and enjoy the action on television. And I’m sure many of us will do just that. It will make good telly, both Qatar and Singapore, but I’d so much rather be there. It’s a little bit of motor racing history in the making.

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